Cohesive chamber orchestra unites for priceless performance

Not even technical difficulties involving the Lied Center's stage lighting could dim the musical fire emanating from the stage Sunday afternoon during the concert by Camerata Sweden. Also known as Camerata Nordica or Camerata Roman, the 15-member chamber orchestra performs without a conductor, relying on the heightened sense of collective unity usually reserved for small chamber ensembles.

A traditional orchestra's lines of communication run primarily from individual players through the conductor. In a quartet or other small ensemble without a conductor, the individual players must connect to one another in ways that are sometimes difficult in the larger orchestra. In a camerata, the difficulties multiply because there are so many players. The possibilities for loss of cohesion multiply when more individuals are added to the group.

However, Camerata Sweden excels at that kind of cohesiveness. Everyone - with the exception of cellists - performs standing, accentuating the possibilities for physical communication. Through direct eye contact and body language, the members of the ensemble maintain an intense, high-level, sensitive connection with one another, moving as individuals yet playing with one glorious sound.

Saying the ensemble is not being led is false, however. Just as a quartet follows the lead of the first violinist, Camerata Sweden relies on the subtle direction of its music director and violinist Levon Chilingirian, whose expressive body language guides the ensemble through intricate musical phrasing.

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Special to the Journal-World

Camerata Sweden, a 15-member chamber orchestra, performed Sunday at the Lied Center.

Chilingirian was also the featured soloist in the aurally striking "Violin Concerto" by Alan Hovhaness, which was an alteration from the announced program. Hovhaness, a 20th-century composer of Armenian and Scottish descent, found much of his musical inspiration in Armenian church music. The "Violin Concerto" is a haunting piece whose first movement - "Pastoral" - sets the scene for the concerto's evocation of lazy summer days. During one of the later movements is a moment of spectacular sound and bowing technique as the instruments emulate the buzzing of bees. All the while, the sound of Chilingirian's violin soared above the ensemble with crystalline clarity.

The concert began with the Mendelssohn "String Quartet in F minor," which established the intense emotional content of the afternoon's selections. Obviously reflecting the composer's state of grief and despair following his sister's death, the music is often strikingly dissonant and macabre, but its emotional peak occurs in the third movement, when the violins and cellos cast out the opening phrase of profound sadness that is borne throughout the sections in an elegy of despair.

The second half of the program contained the familiar Barber's "Adagio," played with breathtaking delicacy; however, the featured number was the Beethoven "String Quartet in F minor." Mirroring the emotions of the Mendelssohn, it is moody and intense, written in 1810 during the composer's bleak years of worsening deafness, ill health and familial frustration. With its emotions ranging from violent anger to anxiety and despair and finally to hopeful resolve, it is a piece well-suited to the chamber orchestra's talent for emotional investment.

Overall, Camerata Sweden's performance offered priceless opportunities for intense, complex musical experiences.

Sarah Young is a lecturer in Kansas University's English department. She can be reached at youngsl@ku.edu.

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